DUBAI: There’s a scene early on in “Love & Revenge” that epitomizes the poignancy in Rayess Bek’s and Randa Mirza’s audio-visual ode to a cultural golden age - clips of classic Egyptian cinema set to contemporary electro-pop reworkings of vintage Arab songs.
In a sequence of scenes taken from Hussein Kamal’s 1969 film “Abi Foq Al-Shagara,” the Egyptian star Abdel Halim Hafez poses self-consciously in front of a camera in Baalbek, Lebanon. With him is the actress Nadia Lutfi. As their love affair unfolds on screen, they laugh and embrace and kiss. All is set to Bek’s masterful reworking of Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s “Ya Msafer Wahdak,” sung by Nagat Al-Saghira.
It’s a sad piece of film to watch. Not because of its beauty, innocence or freedom, or because of the snapshot of an unspoiled Lebanon that it provides, but because you know, deep down, that nothing like the original film or music can ever be created again.
At the heart of “Love & Revenge” is the realization that the Arab world seen through the prism of the golden age of Egyptian cinema bears little or no resemblance to today’s world: A world in which expressions of love, romance and sexuality have been effectively erased. As such, “Love & Revenge” can be viewed as an attempt to reclaim a more liberal past; one where Hafez is free to embrace Lutfi on screen at will.
Created by Bek, a former Arabic hip-hop trailblazer turned audio-visual collaborator, and Mirza, a video artist, “Love & Revenge” was at the Louvre Abu Dhabi for two consecutive nights last week, and brought with it a keen sense of nostalgia.
Even the title is important, taken as it is from Youssef Wahbi’s 1944 film “Gharam Wa Intiqam” (Love and Revenge), the last movie to feature the singer and actress Asmahan, a Druze princess who died in mysterious circumstances before the film was finished. It is Bek’s mid-tempo, beat-heavy reinterpretation of Asmahan’s “Emta Hataraf” that is arguably the project’s standout track.
Yet, for all the perceived freedom depicted in “Love & Revenge,” with the possible exception of Asmahan the movie scenes chosen by Mirza represent a man’s vision of women. Even now, that cinematic vision is only slowly changing.